Thursday’s papers: Interim constitution and shake-up of state media

The military announced the long awaited “Constitutional Declaration” yesterday, finally putting forth an interim constitution to temporarily replace the previous 1971 Constitution that was made obsolete with the fall of President Hosni Mubarak’s regime. The 62 articles of the declaration are valid until a new permanent constitution is drafted by a parliament-appointed constitutional committee after parliamentary elections.

Independent daily Al-Shorouk noted that General Mamdouh Shaheen of the Supreme Council of Armed Forces said that this declaration is akin to what amounts to “principles above the constitution.”  He added that once the parliament is elected, the military will no longer hold any legislative authority, and that once a president is elected, the Supreme Council will no longer exercise executive authority.

State-run Al-Ahram reported the declaration confirms the “sovereignty of the people and respects the dignity of civilians.” One of the more notable inclusions in the declaration, the newspaper wrote, is the decision to stick to the 50 percent quota in the People’s Assembly for laborers and peasants. The controversial quota, which has not been followed in recent memory, is a throwback to an earlier era of socialism under former President Abdel Nasser. Historically, parliamentary seats have rarely been occupied by peasants or laborers, but by businessmen affiliated with the ruling party.

Pinning down a timeline for upcoming polls, state-run Al-Akhbar said that presidential elections are likely to take place at the end of this year. The military had announced that parliamentary elections are scheduled for September and that presidential elections will take place after the newly-elected Parliament drafts a new constitution.

Al-Wafd’s party paper also highlighted the decision to suspend Egypt's decades-long state of emergency ahead of the elections.

The entire content of the interim constitution can be found in Thursday’s state-run papers.

Yesterday saw another long-awaited executive move, as the majority of remaining state-run media chiefs were replaced after a long period of public pressure. Perhaps most prominently, Al-Ahram saw Editor-in-Chief Usama Saraya replaced by Abdel Azeem Hammad.

During the nascent stages of the revolution, most state-run media outlets, including Al-Ahram, engaged in misinformation campaigns to malign protesters and denied the presence of at least 50,000 demonstrators in Tahrir Square on 25 January. Further, state-run media called a few thousand pro-Mubarak thugs who attacked protesters on 2 February “a million man demo in support of Mubarak.” The thugs were armed with fire-power, knives, and machetes, while some charged protesters on the backs of horses and camels.

Perhaps Saraya’s most notorious act, one which will undoubtedly play on journalistic blooper reels for generations to come, is his decision to defend a doctored photo of Mubarak walking with world leaders in Washington during a round of Middle East peace talks last year. He said that the altered version, which moved Mubarak to the front of the group photo, was only meant to illustrate Egypt's leading role in the peace process.

Regarding ongoing cases of corruption, Mohamed Abdel Azeem al-Sheikh, chairman of the state judiciary, is quoted in Al-Shorouk as saying that within a year it is possible to recuperate money laundered and smuggled out of the country. Al-Ahram reported al-Sheikh saying UN-brokered deals guarantee Egypt’s legal authority to return the stolen money up to 100 years after the incident, and al-Sheikh noted that the UK already agreed to freeze Mubarak’s assets as a result.

The independent daily Al-Dostour reported on continued protests around the country involving coalitions and political pressure groups. These protests include Suez Canal workers asking for improved salaries, families on welfare in Cairo asking for public housing they were promised, and a stand in front of the Syrian Embassy calling for the release of Mohamed Radwan, an Egyptian accused of espionage.  Al-Dostour also claims that this week’s Friday “Tahrir youth million-man protests” will demand that remaining figures and symbols of Mubarak's regime be removed by 8 April.

Al-Wafd and Al-Dostour also kept their focus on government corruption cases, with an outpouring of new information regarding former Minister of Interior Habib al-Adly’s corruption. Al-Wafd claims that al-Adly received suitcases of cash amounting to LE12 million every month and that he put all of Egypt’s ministries under phone surveillance.  Al-Dostour released information regarding kick-backs his ministry received from Egypt’s largest telecom operator.

Most papers also reported on news that Zahi Hawass has been appointed head of the newly-formed Ministry of Antiquities. His return to grace has been met with consternation among many Egyptians who participated in the revolution. According to Al-Dostour, Hawass, who previously led the antiquities council under the Culture Ministry was welcomed back by his department. The paper quoted a high ranking antiquities official as saying, “the coming period cannot sustain too much experimentation.”

Al-Shorouk interviewed the chairman of the stock-market Mohamed Abdel Salam, who said the Egyptian stock market will “take-off” after the presidential and parliamentary elections.

Egypt's papers:

Al-Ahram: Daily, state-run, largest distribution in Egypt

Al-Akhbar: Daily, state-run, second to Al-Ahram in institutional size

Al-Gomhorriya: Daily, state-run

Rose al-Youssef: Daily, state-run, close to the National Democratic Party's Policies Secretariat

Al-Dostour: Daily, privately owned

Al-Shorouk: Daily, privately owned

Al-Wafd: Daily, published by the liberal Wafd Party

Al-Arabi: Weekly, published by the Arab Nasserist party

Youm7: Weekly, privately owned

Sawt al-Umma: Weekly, privately owned

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